Authors: Roy Jenkins
The Core of this book is formed by the six medium-length portraits, three British and three foreign, with which it opens. They were conceived as a sequel to a somewhat larger and longer group of profiles which I wrote twenty years ago for three-part publication in
and which subsequently constituted a 1974 book entitled
Nine Men of Power.
The nine I chose then were Ernest Bevin, Maynard Keynes, Stafford Cripps, Edward Halifax, Hugh Gaitskell, LÃ©on Blum, Adlai Stevenson, Robert Kennedy, and Senator (Joe the bad rather than Eugene the good) McCarthy. McCarthy was the black joker in the pack, for he was the only one of the nine for whom I did not have considerable respect and/or sympathy. For him I had none, but I did not think that this mattered in the case of one limited length essay, although I would regard it as depressing, almost corrupting, to spend several years of one's life writing a full book about someone for whom it was possible to feel no empathy.
This time there is no black joker. The three British politicians I chose as front-rank figures about whom I had never written anything substantial before. From Bevan I had been divided during the last ten years of his life by Labour Party tribal disputes, but in retrospect wished that I had known him better and felt that I ought now to be able to look at him free of these old prejudices. In Macleod's case too my judgement of him at the end of his life, although not I think earlier or subsequently, had been clouded by the fact that he was my âshadow' when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and one who was made unusually partisan by a combination of pain and impatience, feeling that office was the only worthwhile experience in politics and that time was running out for him. There was no comparable difficulty with Butler. I had always liked and been amused by him since 1949 when I first came to know him. I might have doubted whether he had the
cold steel which is mostly necessary to become Prime Minister, but I found it easy to sympathize with this deficiency.
Adenauer and de Gaulle were obviously the two dominant leaders of continental Europe in the twenty years after the war. The question was whether they were not exhausted seams to mine. In the case of Adenauer in particular, however, any such hesitations soon disappeared. Except for German specialists the history of the early years of the Federal Republic has become unfamiliar to a British audience, and this applies still more strongly to Adenauer's Weimar Republic activities and wartime experiences. Even with de Gaulle there is a considerable fog of forgetfulness over anything before the beginning of the Fifth Republic in 1959 and much opportunity, particularly following the English publication of Lacouture's biography, for reappraisal even after that. Acheson was sharp about Britain's post-imperial lack of direction (a deficiency we have hardly repaired thirty-five years after he made his ânot found a role' remark), but as first Under-Secretary and then Secretary of State under Truman he had done more than anyone else to make effective Ernest Bevin's central foreign policy aim for getting America firmly committed to European security and prosperity. He was also an interesting example of the species of East Coast pro-consular gentlemen, now nearly extinct, who ran American foreign policy in the plenitude of their country's power.
Next there are two essays which started life as full-length lectures. The first is on Cardinal John Henry Newman and his 1852 Dublin discourses which became a book under the title of
The Idea of a University,
one of the most resonant of all nineteenth-century titles. This was part of a series of six Oxford 1990 lectures to mark the centenary of Newman's death, and was delivered in the Examination Schools of the University with which he is indelibly associated despite the fact that he never saw it (except from the Birmingham to London train) between 1846 and 1877. My difficulty here was that all the other five lecturers were considerable Newman experts, whereas I started almost from scratch. Newman, however, was such a star, still more dazzling than pious in my view, that he easily drew me into an enthusiastic attempt to repair my deficiency.
The second of these lecture/essays, first prepared for the Institute of Contemporary History, was a comparison between the styles of government of four long-serving twentieth-century Prime Ministers, Asquith, Baldwin, Attlee and Lady Thatcher. Of the first three of this quartet I had, at roughly twenty-year intervals, written biographies.
The next section contains twelve pieces which are not about individuals. Two of these also began as lectures.
An Oxford View of Cambridge
for my 1988 Rede Lecture foray into the Cambridge Senate House.
Glasgow Amongst the Cities of the World,
an encomium prepared for that Scottish metropolis's 1990 year as European City of Culture. This however was well after I ceased to seek the franchise of its citizens and should therefore be interpreted as a true tribute rather than as vote-seeking flattery.
Amongst the others in this section are an introduction to the Trollope Society's âedition of one of its eponym's late political novels, a historical review of
its proprietors, editors and policies, written for its bi-centenary; a socio-architectural view of Pall Mall clubs based on anniversary speeches made at two of them; and a couple of frivolous pieces about wine and croquet. There is also a piece, first given as a speech at the Library of Congress in Washington, about the decline of historical knowledge amongst politicians, and an appraisal of whether this matters.
In the third section there are twenty-two âminiatures', based mostly on
book reviews (although with a few from other stables) of recently published biographies or autobiographies. Seven of these are of more or less contemporary British politicians, and five of their dead predecessors. But there is also a clutch of reviews (done appropriately for
of Paris-published books, a category which is now little noticed in England - less so I think than sixty or so years ago - about dead or living Frenchmen: Guizot, Giscard, Mitterrand and J. J. Servan-Schreiber. Sakharov, G. M. Trevelyan, Garret FitzGerald and John Kenneth Galbraith (this an eightieth-birthday speech rather than a review) also appear, as do two sharply contrasting moulders of sharply contrasting newspapers, Beaverbrook and David Astor.
Apart from the six long opening essays, written as in 1971-4 for
I cannot claim that there are great sinews of logic in the choice. What is consistent, however, is that all the subjects considerably interested me at the time I wrote about them, and continue so to do. And that this, while it is not a guarantee of interesting others, is at least a necessary qualification for hoping to do so.
Although Miles away from being âa great man' in the sense epitomized by the inner certainties of a General de Gaulle, Rab Butler was in many ways the most intriguing British political personality of those born since 1900. This stems from his ambiguity of character, from the paradoxes of his career and style, and from the fact that he was a richly comic figure, around whom anecdotes and aphorisms clustered, who was also capable of being extremely and intentionally funny himself.
He was most famous for not becoming Prime Minister. There have been other renowned ânear-misses' - Austen Chamberlain, George Nathaniel Curzon, even Hugh Gaitskell - but no one quite rivalled Rab in making a
out of being pipped at the post. He is also credited (semi-apocryphally) with sustaining Anthony Eden, one of the seven heads of government under whom he served, with an unforgettable declaration of support: âHe is the best Prime Minister we have.' This phrase, which rang around the political world, neatly illustrated nearly all the attributes possessed by Butler and previously described. But it missed out one, which was his gift for quiet constructive statesmanship. By his Education Act of 1944, at once boldly conceived and skilfully engineered, his deft tenure of the Exchequer in the early 1950s, and his frequent provision of the administrative cement which held disintegrating governments together, he showed himself a great public servant, with, for most of his career, some streaks of vision as well.
Amongst his paradoxes were his devotion to public life without the steel of ultimate ambition; his assuming the mantle of a deep-rooted Essex man, while representing in Conservative politics the antithesis of the values which have now come to be associated with that maligned county; and of becoming in some ways a grander grandee than Macmillan, because a less self-conscious one, without having a drop of non-bourgeois blood in his veins.
As a very young man Butler had been for a year a teaching fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, but from his resignation there following his marriage into Courtauld wealth in 1926 until his forty-year-later somewhat weary return to Cambridge, this time to the splendour of the Master's Lodge at Trinity, his attention never flickered away from the bright light of politics, and above all from the politics of office. He was in the House of Commons for thirty-six years and for no less than twenty-six of them in a government of one sort or another. He was the quintessential front bench insider politician. He once (in 1949) said to me with typically feline indiscretion: âThe trouble with Anthony [Eden] is that he has no intellectual interests.' Rab liked some non-political moorings such as his presidency of the Royal Society of Literature or the possession of his father-in-law's fine collection of French Impressionist paintings, but it never seriously occurred to him to make a life away from politics or even away from office. His career went through a lot of fluctuations, and he suffered many indignities at the hands of both Eden and Macmillan. But he never responded to them by deciding he had had enough, or even with the serious threat of resignation. It was always better to be in than out.
His marriage gave him not only his wealth but his Essex roots. Samuel Courtauld settled Â£5000 a year tax free upon him, which was a very considerable income in 1926. He also subsequently gave him Stanstead Hall, a substantial north Essex country mansion, into which he moved in 1934. On top of this he left him Gatcombe Park in Gloucestershire, which Butler eventually sold to the royal family as a residence for Princess Anne, as well as a life interest in the pictures, with the residue of his fortune going to Sydney Butler, Rab's first wife until her death in 1954 and Courtauld's only child. The nomination to the Saffron Walden Conservative candidature, which Rab secured at the age of twenty-four and which gave him a secure constituency for four decades, although its safeness never prevented him cultivating it with skill and assiduity, also came through the Courtauld connection. And when he married again in 1959, as the result of a fine middle-aged romance about which his widow has written with a
moving vividness, it was to another Courtauld, this time by marriage, who lived in another, although smaller, Essex country house in which he eventually finished his days.